Our Nudist Neighbors are Fighting by Joshua Jones Lofflin

The Marions are at it in their front yard again. This is normal. Except usually it’s warmer, like in the springtime after they’ve spent all day planting annuals—splashes of impatiens and pansies—and Mr. Marion’s award-winning tomatoes. A day of bending and swaying flesh. My sister and I would tend our own gardens in Minecraft, planting neat cubes of pixelated tulips until the Marions’ screaming became impossible to ignore. Then we’d press our noses to the window, watch them rage amid half-planted rosebushes, before growing bored and returning to our game.

In summer, their shouting would echo deep into the night, long after we’d finished plugging the holes in our window screens with old socks—anything to keep the mosquitoes out—and long after our own parents grew tired from slamming doors and throwing whiskey-stained glasses. Our father would be crashed out on the couch and our mother sulking in the dark of her bedroom, moaning that her head hurt so we’d better put ourselves to bed. From our window, we’d see the Marions’ pale bodies shift in and out of the moonlight. Circling. Feinting. Growling. But they never hit one another. Dad says they disgust him.

But now it’s deep autumn, and even with the space heater going in our living room, we’re in sweaters and wool socks; surely they must be cold outside as they jab accusatory fingers at one another. Mrs. Marion’s wielding a plastic flamingo. It used to be pink but has faded to a dull white. She lifts it over head like a drum major baton—up and down, up and down—and Mr. Marion raises his arm to fend off a blow that never comes. Our father watches beside us, says she should shove the flamingo up his hairy ass, and we laugh. Mr. Marion is hairy, his back carpeted in auburn tufts like an orangutan. Sounds like something you’d like, our mother says from her chair across the room. She’s wearing one of her facemasks again, the kind she keeps in the freezer for when her headaches come on. Our father ignores her, for now, just sips his drink and rattles the melting ice. It’s early yet.

Outside, Mrs. Marion makes her move and lunges forward like a fencer, her breasts swinging wildly. And maybe the flamingo would hit its target, but Mr. Marion stumbles backward and trips over the rake he’d been using half an hour ago. He falls into a leaf pile, and my sister and I laugh at his luck, then look mournfully at our own unraked yard. What an idiot, our father says and drains his glass and walks away. He doesn’t see Mrs. Marion lower the flamingo, doesn’t see her face break into a smile or how she stretches out her arm to help Mr. Marion to his feet.  Doesn’t see Mr. Marion pull her into the leaf pile with him or hear their shrieks of laughter. Our mother lifts her facemask from her eyes. What’s happening, she asks us, and we make space for her to see.

JOSHUA JONES LOFFLIN — Joshua’s writing has appeared in The Best Microfiction, The Best Small Fictions, The Cincinnati Review, CRAFT, Fractured Lit, SmokeLong Quarterly, Split Lip Magazine, and elsewhere. He lives in Maryland. Find him on Twitter @jjlofflin or visit his website: jjlofflin.com

Art by SUSAN SOLOMON — Susan is a freelance paintress living in the beautiful Twin Cities area of Minneapolis/Saint Paul.